Philly concertmaster orchestrates spiritual, technical spheres of music at Bucks college


The concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra has partnered with a small Christian university in Bucks County to create an annual music education summit.

The David Kim Orchestral Institute, a five-day summit at Cairn University in Langhorne, keeps it small and spiritual.



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Kim pulled in colleagues from the Philadelphia Orchestra to teach master classes, as well as luminaries including David Chan, concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and Michelle Kim, assistant concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic.

“I have been asked many, many times over the course of my career with the Philadelphia Orchestra — 16 years now — exploring the subject of a summer camp or an institute,” said Kim. “Schools in Bay Area, France, Japan, Korea. None have panned out. Great intentions, sincere intentions, but it takes a small army of people to push it to make it go with financial backing.”

It finally happened at Cairn, a tiny school with a student body of 1,100 and a music department with just 50 students. None qualified for the Institute. Violin players from around the world auditioned, and 16 were accepted including two Cairn faculty members.

“It’s important that what we’re providing is done in a humble manner,” said Kim. “Humility comes in great qualities right here at Cairn.”

Kim, a practicing Christian, baked into his institute a religious element. The first day of instruction started with a prayer, and communal meals will feature members of the Institute’s faculty sharing their spiritual journey in the classical music industry.

“David Kim is a top musician in the world, and he’s bringing David Chan and leaders in their fields, but they are servants in the journey of students,” said Benjamin Harding, Dean of Cairn’s music school. “We want to be about challenge and nurture. Bring students along for spiritual refreshment and musical inspiration.”

Some of the attendees are not Christian. Qjan Zhong from China, now studying at Jacobs Music School in Indiana, came for the professional training.

“It’s very close communication with the famous violinist. I really want to learn something from them,” said Zhong, who played a tricky excerpt from Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 2 during a critique by  Chan.

“You’re brave,” said Chan afterward. “If somebody gave me a bag of excerpts, that’s not the one I would pick.”

He asked Kim how many times he has been asked to play Schubert’s No. 2.

“I’ve played it once in my entire career,” said Kim.

“There you go,” said Chan.

Learning the language of fine art

The summit also offers career advice, including mock orchestra auditions (players normally audition behind a scrim, unseen by their judges, which can be unnerving), and how to navigate the culture of a large orchestra.

Many of the participants came for the mixture of technical instruction, career advice, and spiritual inspiration. Several came because they have some personal connection to Kim.

“Music is very spiritual, and we don’t always get to make that relationship in school,” said Maria Arrua, originally from Paraguay, now at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign working toward her doctorate. “I always put it together myself, but this is a chance to put it together as a group. It’s a much deeper way to do it.”

Kim takes the long view when asked about combining his spirituality with his position in the sometimes cut-throat professional classical music industry. Now 52, he has had his ups and downs as a performer. But he said when he is about to set foot onstage, his belief evens the keel.

“I used to think — and state very dramatically in public — it’s hard to be a Christian in this industry. ‘It’s very dark out there,'” said Kim. “It took me a while, but I began to realize that is so untrue. Musicians speak the common language of fine art. There are many Christians in the orchestral world.”

On Sunday, the final day of the Institute, the students will be joined by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra for a final concert open to the public at Cairn University.

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